It is over a decade now, since private schools started to request government partnership to save them from bankruptcy.
Their failure started as most students were enrolled in public schools to study free of charge or at relatively lower cost as part of Education for All program which covers 12 Year Basic Educatio-Primary through Secondary school.
However, the partnership request remains “unanswered” with several closed and idle private schools continuing to be evaded by shrubs and slowly facing demolition threat.
Besides the request, the government continues to massively construct new schools and classrooms in its efforts to implement the “free and quality education for all” program.
Some of the closed private schools started operations 3 decades ago, and those include Collège Nkunduburezi, APRODESOC school, APEM school from Janja, Ruli, and Nemba sectors of Gakenke district, Northern Province.
The oldest among them is Collège Nkunduburezi that was built by an association of parents dubbed Nkunduburezi in 1983, but was launched in 1986. It specialized in teaching Education, Governance and Law, but also had ordinary level.
Like several others, Collège Nkunduburezi closed doors in 2017 after many students were enrolled in public schools under the 9 and 12 Year Basic Education (12-YBE).
Launched in 2011, the 12-YBE is a continuation of 9-YBE (in 2007). Government provides free education for all from Primary through secondary education.
With this system, the government builds many schools in every corner of the country to relieve students who used to walk long distances to/from school and to extend free education.
This also reduces the student to teacher ratio.
According to the Ministry of Education, many new classrooms are expected to improve the student to teacher ratio to an average of 1:45 in both primary and secondary schools.
Today in primary school, the ratio is 59:1 for primary and 26:1 for secondary.
So far, 22,505 new classrooms and 31,932 toilets have been completed and ready to host students next week, with the funds from the World Bank.
Besides these intensified efforts, several private schools have been closed and others affected by mass enrollment of students in public schools− the 9 and 12 Year Basic Education.
“Collège Nkunduburezi was of great importance for us. Some students rented in the neighborhood, the landlords were getting money, shops were working and those who had agricultural produce were also selling them to get money,” Jean Nsengimihigo, a resident of Janja sector said.
“To be sincere its closure is a big loss, this school was built by parents, through hard work. They are now idle. It could be better, if they reopen and restart working.”
According to Jean Marie Nizeyimana, Mayor of Gakenke district, most of these schools closed because they had few students after many of their students were enrolled in government schools under the 9 and 12 Year Basic Education.
“In many circumstances, the free and access to education for all programs affected private schools. This program helps students to learn near their homes, but also the school fees is low compared to the private schools, they couldn’t stand,” Nizeyimana said.
“It is within that context that private schools closed and now buildings are idle and evaded with bushes,” he added.
Nizeyimana said that Collège Nkunduburezi is just an example of closed and now idle private schools, there are several others including APRODESOC school, APEM, APEM Muhondo, etc.
“All of these schools closed, after many students joined government schools. The schools were extended to them and they had most of the things that private schools had. So, students decided to join public schools. Private schools charged a lot of money compared to government schools,” Nizeyimana said.
However, Mayor Nizeyimana said that the district is in talks with the founders of Collège Nkunduburezi(parents) to see how the classrooms can be used for other profitable business to stop them from damages.
Referring to Collège Nkunduburezi, Nizeyimana said that APAX Janja, a neighboring catholic school has indicated interest in buying the idle buildings to expand its operations.
“The talks are going on, APAX Janja has many students and wants more space. So, they are interested in buying APEM’s idle building,” Nizeyimana said.
For APRODESOC school, the district is in negotiations with founders (also parents) to turn it into Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).
According to Nizeyimana, apart from mass construction of government schools and extending free and quality education for all programs to the community, some private schools close due to mismanagement.
The problem has been there for decades
In 2010, students started abandoning private schools and enrolling in public schools. By 2015, ten private schools had no students in just a couple of months.
Also, In June 2017, KT Press reported that some students deserted schools, and directors failed to pay bills and to service bank loans since students were the only source of income facilitating most schools’ operations. Unpaid, teachers left too.
It also reported that in some instances, even directors left schools’ premises and neighboring cattle keepers turned them into cowsheds.
Herdsmen turned Ecole Secondaire de Musange (ESECOMU) located in Musange sector, Nyamagabe district into a grazing field.
Also In Nyamagabe district ACEPR secondary school owned by the late Amb. Jacques Bihozagara and associates closed doors two years ago. A few classroom blocks have been rented out to a small nursery school.
In 2015, the ministry of education asked district mayors across the country to investigate and establish why private schools are closing and advise accordingly. But the wave has continued with reportedly twenty (20) more closing, between 2015 and 2017, according to the private school association of Rwanda.
Reacting to the problem in 2015, the Ministry of education said that it needed to first understand the problem of private schools from an ‘official point of view’, not the schools themselves.
One of the suggested solutions to save private schools from closing due to bankruptcy was subsidizing, but the problem persisted since then, with the closed buildings now facing demolition.